Some people can bend themselves into mind-boggling positions. Others have one cool trick, such as wrapping their legs behind their neck or bending their thumbs backward. Talented? Maybe. Double-jointed? No.
To explain such feats, people boast that they’re double-jointed, as though they either have more joints than the rest of us or have joints with twice the normal range of motion. Even if you can twist yourself into the shape of a pretzel, you are not, in fact, double-jointed.
Circus promoters often claim that their star contortionists have a little extra in their anatomy, but that’s just to sell tickets. In fact, we all have the same number of joints. Those dramatic twists and turns are a combination of genetic flexibility, which allows for extra movement in the joints, and intense training. The technical term for extraordinary joint flexibility is hypermobility.
Hypermobility is most often seen in children. Most of the time, the condition doesn’t cause any problems, but in some cases, it can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. When hypermobility causes dislocations and sprains, or pain and swelling in the joints, the diagnosis is Benign Hypermobility Syndrome. Also called “looseness of joints”, this condition is characterized by loose and weak ligaments, which do a poor job of providing stability to the joints.
Experts do not know why some hypermobile individuals are pain-free, while others experience discomfort. Treatment varies but may include exercises to increase muscle strength and training to prevent hyperextension.
In rare instances, hypermobility can indicate the presence of systemic genetic diseases such as Marfan syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
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